This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

Some common misconceptions about Phoenix, Arizona


I moved to Phoenix when I was a teenager, and I just love it here. I grew up in Minneapolis, land of ice and snow, and even after all of these years I still marvel at how lucky I am to live where it gets to 70 degrees in winter. I'm also interested in Phoenix history, and have stumbled into a lot of misconceptions about my favorite city. Here are a few things.

Some common misconceptions about Phoenix, Arizona

• It used to be much cooler in Phoenix. No, it wasn't. Unless you count the last Ice Age, Phoenix has always been very, very hot. Yeah, I've lived here a long time, and I would like to tell the newcomers that “back in the day” it was cooler, but no, it wasn't. I made the mistake of moving to Phoenix in August, in a car that didn't have air conditioning. The weather has always been extreme in Phoenix. It’s in a gigantic desert. And if someone tells you that the tiny ribbons of concrete and the small amount of asphalt paved on the Sonoran Desert has made it hot, go fly over it. As big as Phoenix is, it's tiny compared to the desert that surrounds it.

• Rivers ran all year-round in Phoenix before the dams were built. No, they didn't. Rivers like the Salt, the Gila, and the Verde, are riparian washes, like just all of the other rivers in the Sonoran Desert. They dry up in the summer, and they flood in the winter. The dams on these rivers didn't stop a gentle flow, they stopped catastrophic yearly flooding. If you want to see what these rivers looked like before the dams were built, look at any other river in the Sonoran Desert. If you've done much hiking, you know what they look like - dry in the summer, wet and muddy in the winter.

Phoenix was all built after World War II. No, it wasn't. The townsite of Phoenix was platted in 1870, and started growing explosively after the Roosevelt Dam was finished in 1911. The reason that Phoenix looks so new it that the city has grown so quickly that it quickly outgrows its buildings, streets and freeways. And the invention of air conditioning was perfected in the 1950s, and that meant that old, poorly-insulated buildings were torn down in favor of newer ones that would be less expensive to air-condition.

So there are a few things about my favorite city that are common misconceptions. Of course, there are a lot more, and I hear new ones all of the time. But don't get me wrong, I love Phoenix, and it's a great place to live. And may I recommend having good air conditioning in your house and car to be your first priority? And if it's winter, go play golf!

Photo above: The Spur Cross Conservation Area near Cave Creek, Arizona. The elevation is slightly higher, but if you want to travel back in time to see what Phoenix looked like over 100 years ago, there it is.